I watched the daft and cheery Russell Howard Show last night. It was very good news to see the young American dancer, Adrianne Haslet-Davis, who’s determined not to be defeated since losing her lower leg in the recent Boston bombing. She will – she says – dance again. Of course she will –
she radiated positive attitude and a love for dance.
The dancer who rises above adversity is something of an archetype, and one we ballet girls of the sixties and seventies are familiar with. Remember Princess Tina comic – Bella at the Barre, and the marvellous novels of Noel Streatfield – Ballet Shoes, and Gemma and Sisters, and Lorna Hill’s Veronica at
the Wells. Good old Veronica was resourceful enough to use the bathroom towel rail as a barre. The message in these tales was always positive, and the writing vivid – I remember the wonderful description of Northumberland as Veronica canters over the moors in the nick of time to get the train to London for a
vital audition. Gripping stuff!
Of course these heroines were always going to make it big on stage, and probably live happily ever after - there was nothing unpredictable there. Not like real life where failure to succeed in a stage career can cause such misery. It’s important not to idealise the competitive world of theatre that has its own cruelties. No I think it was the human spirit that these books celebrated - the world of ballet was just a romantic and
compelling vehicle for the perennial tale of survival against the odds.
I have never forgotten the haunting account of a young gypsy girl imprisoned in one of the concentration camps in Nazi Germany. I can’t remember the details or where I read this story – possibly one of the essays of Bruno Bettelheim. It was a long time ago. I’m left with the memory of a girl in extreme circumstances, knowing she’s about to die, facing the brutal Nazis Officers with their chained dogs. The dogs will be turned on her. She starts to dance. She dances in defiance of all their abasement of human life, in defiance
of terror. She dances wildly, for her life, with the only power she has.
I try to imagine that dance.
Tricia Durdey dances, writes, and teaches Pilates.